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Education Necessary for Progression of Transgender Rights

March 1, 2010

I was deeply involved with the No on 1 campaign from early-2009 through Election Day. I knocked on hundreds of doors, made thousands of phone calls, and participated in dozens of events. If the election taught me anything, it was that without proper education and cogent refutation of opponents’ slanderous claims, lies and misinformation will run rampant and destroy any possibility of advancing equal rights.
As I follow the pursuit of the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) to clarify the Maine Human Rights Act in order to ensure equal rights for all transgender students in Maine’s public schools, I can’t help but feel that the public, and even some journalists, lack sufficient education on the issue. The staggering total of 594 comments on the Bangor Daily News’ February 17 article about transgender rights alone speaks for itself. And, unless we want the outcome of transgender rights to be equivalent to that of same-sex marriage, qualified and extensive education is a vital prerequisite.
The MHRC must begin by tackling the common and oft-expressed concern that students are so insensitive that, to fuel their adolescent desires, they might abuse a restructuring of rules that would ensure transgenders equal access to locker rooms and restrooms. For example, one commenter on the Feb. 17 news article on the BDN’s site says, “now every horny teenage male will be saying they are transgender to get to the females… or vice versa.” Perhaps I’m giving my fellow classmates too much the benefit of the doubt, but I strongly believe that, with education, all students would learn how to approach this issue maturely and sensibly. In this instance, the education might be better suited to begin in the classroom, and then branch out through parents into the community.
Another issue that arises, and one of much greater complexity, is the likely potential of sexual harassment, or even violence, directed at transgenders who would utilize their equal access rights. As much as I like to believe that all Maine students are nondiscriminatory and above harassing, I have witnessed harassment first-hand, so I know it exists. In its Sunday editorial, the Lewiston Sun Journal advocates for gender neutral bathrooms to minimize harassment, but doesn’t go so far as to suggest that the existence of such a bathroom should be mandated. I feel that such a mandate is absolutely necessary. Violence against members of the LGBTQ community is all-to-real and existent and schools must provide a safe and secure environment for all students. If a student feels that his or her security is threatened, there must be an alternate bathroom that he or she can use in safety.
What we cannot afford is the struggle for equal rights for transgender students in Maine’s public schools turning into another partisan boxing match consisting of Maine’s human rights and LGBTQ organizations against the Maine Christian Civic League. Fiscally and socially, such a fight would debilitate the potential of achieving real change. We must approach this issue through increasing education, sensitivity, and awareness. We must put Maine’s future – our students – first.

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